Native trees sprout environmental awareness
COURTESY OF MICHELE CHESS
Kainalu Elementary students pour cupfuls of dirt at the base of a Milo tree, planted as part of the Kanu Project, a native tree planing program for schools in the Windward School District. Rep. Cynthia Thielen, holding the shovel, and Kainalu Elementary School Vice Principal Paul Graham, wearing sunglasses, supervised the planting.
Hawaii's energy usage and its impact on our environment are uppermost on people's minds. Fortunately, people are shifting from talk to action. Maintaining the balance between man and nature has always been an intrinsic part of Hawaiian culture. By teaching our keiki to take an active role in environmental stewardship, we can create a positive impact on the environment for decades to come. To reinforce this concept, I've initiated the Kanu Project, a native tree planting program for schools in my Windward district.
As part of the Kanu Project, I am bringing native trees to the schools for planting. Through photosynthesis, trees (and other plants) remove carbon dioxide -- a major contributor to global warming -- from our atmosphere, retaining the carbon and releasing oxygen to give us healthy air to breathe. Planting more trees is one way to increase the amount of sequestered carbon and lessen the amount of this greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. It's also a useful teaching tool to demonstrate the idea of carbon offsetting: balancing the carbon we put into the atmosphere (by burning fossil fuels to power cars and create electricity to power air conditioners, lights, etc.) by taking measures to remove this carbon. Since trees grow three times faster in the tropics, Hawaii is an ideal location to practice this form of carbon offsetting.
The trees will provide shade for playing keiki, support native plant growth, and give students a hands-on opportunity to study ecology, natural history, and Hawaiian culture. Students participate in the planting of the trees and learn about their care, past and present uses, and their place in Hawaiian legends. As stewards of the future, our keiki can lead the way in making a difference.
We currently have two Kailua schools participating in the Kanu Project: St. John Vianney School in Enchanted Lake and Kainalu Elementary School. At St. John Vianney, the entire student body gathered for the introduction of the program and a representative of each grade (K-8) helped with the planting of a Milo tree. In the few minutes between their morning Pledge of Allegiance and the start of their first class, these students already felt connected to and responsible for their tree.
We planted another Milo tree at Kainalu Elementary School. It was a joy to see the kids busying themselves with planting the tree. They were delighted to be a part of Kanu by using cups to shovel dirt onto the tree's roots. Their participation cemented the connection with nature.
Children are especially interested in how fast their tree will grow -- comparing their height with the trees and wondering what it will be like when they are older. By teaching our keiki to take an active role in environmental stewardship, we can honor Hawaiian tradition while creating a positive impact on the environment for decades to come.
Cynthia Thielen, a Republican, represents the 50th District (Kailua-Kaneohe Bay Drive) in the state House of Representatives.